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Hot Desk Extract: Bellyheart

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship program, Melanie Schuijers worked on a fiction novel called Bellyheart. Centred on Stars, a woman raised in a survivalist commune isolated by the sea, Bellyheart explores the reliability of intuition and some of the dystopian elements of our society. It is a visceral and reflective psychological exploration, with echoes of the post-apocalyptic genre. 

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And just like that, change blew in with the salted wind. I was up on the hill, shirt full of black grapes as big as suns, when I saw Mer pull the boat into our cove. Our cove didn’t suit boats. It was small with only broken rocks to tether to, but Mer could manage it. I couldn’t see who was in the boat from that high up, but I knew that there was a terra person with him, looking at our blue water, our teeth rocks, the sighing mouth of our isolotto for the first time. It was all anyone had been talking about, this terra person. We’d been wondering about her. And even though we hadn’t met her yet, we’d already chosen her name. Winter. Winter, because talk of her, even thoughts of her, made our skin prickle like it does in the colder months. I suppose it didn’t make complete sense to call only her Winter, because we felt the same kind of prickle for each terra person that came to us, but Winter was the first, so that was her name.  

I folded fabric over grapes and began to run down the hill. I ran as if I were falling. The way I loved to run. Only my feet touching the ground, thudding into the grass, and only my legs moving, the rest of me falling. My bellyheart weightless. My hair behind me like a flag. You have to know how to stop suddenly though, if you run like that, and I did. I stopped just before the ledge of the fish skin wall, at the bottom of which was where we slept and ate and lived, for the most part. This cliff was tall, but not our tallest. Most people didn’t use the ropes to go up and down it because you could take the long route. If you did that, you could look out over the sea, full of fallen stars. Sun gilding skin. Tasting my grapes, my capers, my olives, my lemons, my wild honey on the air’s breath. Sweet currents through the gull smell. It was a nice walk. But I was up and down to the high hills and back so often, it was faster for me to use the ropes.  

I tied good knots, my fingers moving faster than my mind. Overhand knots, a Prusik knot, a knot in my shirt to hold the grapes. The harness cinched my waist. I spun the carabiner closed and leaned back, face to the sky. And as I walked backwards down the fish skin wall, looking up, I felt a dreamlike sensation, as if I was sinking into water. All that blue above me. No clouds that day. I wasn’t like Mer. Or Coral. Or like little Rain was turning out to be. I was a woman of the sky. Even though I did go down the wet cliff to scrape molluscs every other week, I was a woman of the sky in my head heart and my throat heart. I’m not saying I didn’t like swimming. We all did. But lying on a rock like a lizard, sun rays taking the water from my skin and leaving only salt dust behind, waves shushing the noisy sea birds, they were the happiest moments of my swimming. So, I suppose what I mean is, I had an uneasy feeling. Sinking and not knowing what was below me. Life on our isolotto, which had been the same for so long, churned by change. Eleven of us were now twelve. And more were coming. 

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.